Friday, August 19, 2011

Da Plane! Da Plane!

1928 Time magazine cover

Orville Wright was born in 1871 on this date in Dayton OH. He never graduated from high school and did not attend college but he and his brother Wilbur changed the world forever due to their ambition and nurturing childhoods. Orville said of his upbringing, "We were lucky enough to grow up in an environment where there was always much encouragement to children to pursue intellectual interests; to investigate whatever aroused curiosity."
Much of their research and work was done in their Dayton bicycle shop but they chose Kitty Hawk, NC for their first test flight based on a suggestion by the U.S. Weather Bureau for that areas excellent wind conditions. The first flight in 1903 lasted 12 seconds and covered only 120 feet but a second flight that day was nearly a minute of controlled flight. By 1905 the brothers were making 30 minute controlled flights as they improved their designs. It's pretty amazing to think that in less than 50 years from these test flights there would be jets and spacecraft!
People all over the world at first were skeptical that such a thing even occurred and much debate ensued on whether they were "flyers or liars". They had to demonstrate this accomplishment many times before it became widely accepted as a fact. Even the US Military was dubious of the claim and practicality when the Wright Brothers tried to sell their design to them.

Wilbur (who was born in Indiana) died in 1912 of typhoid fever but Orville went on to be an aviation superstar and consultant eventually serving on the board of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) which was the predecessor to NASA. Orville died of a heart attack in 1948 just a few month after the first supersonic flight.

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